4 More Running Lies—And The Real Truth

There are lots of commonly accepted beliefs about running—many of which are pure hokum.

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running lies asthma
Illustration: Emma Hanquist

You’ve likely heard running will degrade your joints or pregnant runners should cut back on mileage. There are lots of commonly accepted beliefs about running—many of which are pure hokum. From carbo-loading to altitude training to suffering from “runner’s face” (what?!), our panel of experts exposes the fiction to show the truth behind these running myths.

Training at altitude will make you faster.
Boulder, Colo., Flagstaff, Ariz., Mammoth Lakes, Calif.—these high-altitude towns are meccas for professional runners looking to gain a competitive advantage. The belief is that training at altitude puts more stress on a person’s lungs, causing capillaries to expand, which ultimately leads to the creation of more red blood cells. This process is thought to be an advantage when returning to race at sea level. But is this belief accurate? No one knows for sure. There is a lack of rigorous scientific studies on the topic, so it’s unclear how—or even if—altitude really plays a role in enhancing athletic performance.

TRUTH: Don’t buy into the high-up hype. As Annika Braun, coach for McMillan Running in Arizona, points out, “There are plenty of elites that don’t train at altitude, and some of them are the fastest people in the world.”

Related: 4 Big Lies About Running

You can’t run with asthma.
If you are one of the 25 million people in the United States living with asthma, breathe easy knowing it’s possible to enjoy—even excel at—running. Don’t believe us? Consider this: The current world record holder in the women’s marathon, Paula Radcliffe, was diagnosed with this disease as a child, and it certainly didn’t slow her down!

TRUTH: Asthmatics may benefit from a prescription inhaler to keep symptoms under control while running. Plus, recent research shows a long, gradual warm-up may be just as effective as an inhaler for exercise-induced asthma. Work with your doctor to find the best treatment plan for you.

You should be chugging water during runs.
So false, says Nancy DiMarco, director at the Institute for Women’s Health at Texas Woman’s University. Though it’s good to sip water throughout a training run or race, there’s no need to carry around a gallon jug of agua. In fact, drinking too much water may dilute sodium levels in the blood, leading to a life-threatening condition known as hyponatremia. Some researchers suggest as many as 50 percent of runners drink too much water; in many of these studies, women were at greater risk for hyponatremia than men due to differences in body composition and sweat rate.

TRUTH: You don’t have to hit up every single aid station or force yourself to guzzle liquids during training. Most experts agree the best indicator of when you should drink is thirst: If you want water, drink it; if you don’t, that’s fine.

Related: Which Hydration System Works For You

Running will make you look older.
Running makes you feel young, but could it make you look ancient? Believe it or not, some people believe athletes are prone to “runner’s face”—old, saggy skin and elastic jowls as a result of too much bouncing.“If you lose a lot of weight, you will notice some of the weight will come from the face. The loss of weight in your face can make wrinkles and hollows (cheeks, jowls, temples) become more noticeable,” says Cynthia Bartus, physician at the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Pennsylvania. These cosmetic issues were there before running, and being active does not make the skin less elastic. That said, running can be a culprit of premature aging in another way: Training outside without proper sun protection causes wrinkles, fine lines and brown spots to appear.

TRUTH: It’s sun exposure, not movement, that can lead to visible signs of aging. Fortunately, you can do something to prevent this: Bartus suggests wearing sunscreen, a hat or visor, sunglasses and running clothing with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating to protect skin.